Holder pasteurization of donated human milk is effective in inactivating SARS-CoV-2

CMAJ. 2020 Aug 4;192(31):E871-E874. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.201309. Epub 2020 Jul 9.


Background: Provision of pasteurized donor human milk, as a bridge to mother's own milk, is the standard of care for very low-birth-weight infants in hospital. The aim of this research was to confirm that Holder pasteurization (62.5°C for 30 min) would be sufficient to inactivate severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in donated human milk samples.

Methods: We spiked frozen milk samples from 10 donors to the Rogers Hixon Ontario Human Milk Bank with SARS-CoV-2 to achieve a final concentration of 1 × 107 TCID50/mL (50% of the tissue culture infectivity dose per mL). We pasteurized samples using the Holder method or held them at room temperature for 30 minutes and plated serial dilutions on Vero E6 cells for 5 days. We included comparative controls in the study using milk samples from the same donors without addition of virus (pasteurized and unpasteurized) as well as replicates of Vero E6 cells directly inoculated with SARS-CoV-2. We reported cytopathic effects as TCID50/mL.

Results: We detected no cytopathic activity in any of the SARS-CoV-2-spiked milk samples that had been pasteurized using the Holder method. In the SARS-CoV-2-spiked milk samples that were not pasteurized but were kept at room temperature for 30 minutes, we observed a reduction in infectious viral titre of about 1 log.

Interpretation: Pasteurization of human milk by the Holder method (62.5°C for 30 min) inactivates SARS-CoV-2. Thus, in the event that donated human milk contains SARS-CoV-2 by transmission through the mammary gland or by contamination, this method of pasteurization renders milk safe for consumption and handling by care providers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus / growth & development*
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / prevention & control*
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Milk Banks*
  • Milk, Human / chemistry
  • Milk, Human / virology*
  • Ontario
  • Pandemics / prevention & control*
  • Pasteurization / methods*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / prevention & control*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Time Factors
  • Viral Plaque Assay
  • Virus Inactivation*